Frank Kush is the Baltimore Colts' new coach; heads will roll.
No more Mr. Nice Guys for his team, owner Robert Irsay implied by naming Kush a short time after dismissing Mike McCormack Monday. McCormack had replaced Ted Marchibroda two seasons earlier. In all, Irsay has hired seven coaches in his 10 years as owner.
This time, he may have gotten it right.
An owner who wants to add class and dignity to his team, who assumes that because his players are paid extremely well they will push themselves to the extreme, hires a McCormack. An owner who senses his players will take every physical and mental shortcut possible, who believes they need a bludgeon upside the helmet as motivation because pro football really isn't much fun most of the time, hires a Kush.
Irsay's seems an act of desperation, for Kush has a reputation as a mean and devious man, a coach who built a paper-strong empire of greedy convenience at Arizona State that toppled when the first thread of trust was broken and who is friendlier with serious gamblers than the NFL usually condones.
Kush also is a helluva football coach.
Apparently, Irsay's haste in jettisoning McCormack and signing Kush involves the realization that some other victory-starved NFL teams also know that. So Irsay hired Kush before he could be wisked off to New England, Green Bay or wherever a driven man with a brilliant record seems needed.
What the Colts can look forward to is replacing that horseshoe on their helmets with a likeness of Kush's footprint. They surely will feel it everywhere in the organization. Irsay might try one call to Kush on the sideline during a game; his second will be for an ambulance.
McCormack cannot cry foul on the NFL, that he was not given a decent chance. Ten years ago, when he was an assistant, with the Redskins under George Allen, he, Chuck Knox and Walt Michaels were whispered as the NFL assistants with the best chance at becoming successful head coaches.
Knox won five divisional titles in five years with the Rams and has gotten the Bills into the playoffs the last two seasons. The Jets were extremely patient with Michaels, suffering through 3-11, 8-8, 8-8 and 4-12 seasons before being justified with a playoff spot this season.
McCormack's teams, in three seasons in Philadelphia and two in Baltimore, would spurt quickly and then slide even faster. He was 5-8-1 his first year with the Eagles, 7-7 his second and 4-10 his last; he was 7-9 last season with the Colts and 2-14 this season.
Three years is about what coaches also give players who show early promise. If by that time a player has not progressed satisfactorily and shown he clearly belongs in the league, he also is fired.
With obvious leverage, Kush got a five-year contract, saying: "I told them if the players knew the coach was going to be around for five years, then they are going to believe in what we are doing. I think if you have a short-term contract they, being human beings, are liable to say: 'Maybe they don't like this guy; they're going to dump him next.
"Then you know you have chaos. It is very important for the organization that we have continuity."
The Colts had chaos, in the extreme, this past season. But with McCormack gone quarterback Bert Jones seemed more likely to stay. Despite some of his immature actions, he still is an immensely skilled passer. Then Jones, through lawyer Ron Shapiro, said Monday he would file a grievance against Irsay.
Jones and the owner agreed last year to a contract, according to Shapiro, Jones and Jones' brother, Bill, his attorney-agent. When they sought changes this season, Irsay allegedly said there was no contract.
Whatever, Kush is in an enviable position. He can remake the Colts into a winner in a hurry. If Jones is not the quarterback of Kush's dreams, he surely is marketable enough to bring one who is. With the second pick in the upcoming draft, Kush has even more maneuverability.
He has a core of excellent offensive talent, seemingly ready to be kicked into contention or out of town.
Kush took a firm but fair stance during his introductory press conference. What, me tough? I didn't punch that punter. A court cleared him of those charges by Kevin Rutledge, though an appeal is pending. But Kush was suspended, after five games in 1979, by Arizona State on the grounds he attempted to have assistants and players lie as part of a coverup prompted by Rutledge's allegations.
When he fired Marchibroda in January of 1980, Irsay arranged a meeting with Kush but canceled it when an Arizona newspaper reported that the FBI was investigating the former Sun Devil coach and some aides on charges of mail fraud involving allegedly doctored college transcripts and gambling ties, in addition to those questions involving the Rutledge suit.
In addition to the Rutledge appeal, Kush is the defendant in a $15 million slander and defamation of character suit filed by ASU booster Rick Lynch.
NFL spokesman Jim Heffernan said the league had given security clearance for any team wanting to hire Kush, who coached Hamilton from an 8-7-1 record to 11-4-1 and into the Canadian Football League playoffs this season. "At this time," Heffernan said, "We have nothing before us to disapprove his contract."
An NCAA probe discovered evidence of transcript altering and phony college credits. Some players had been given credit for summer extension courses without ever attending classes. ASU began serving a two-year probation Dec. 30, 1980.
What fascinates NFL owners about Kush is that 176-54-1 record at Arizona State and that, after 20 years, attendance was more than double what it was when he arrived. The Colts could have played their last game in a corral. Also, Kush sent such as Charley Taylor, Jerry Smith, Tony Lorick, Curly Culp, J. D. Hill and Danny White to the NFL.
Perhaps the NFL is where Kush belongs. He obviously has some virtues or he would not have been able to recruit so well for so long at ASU. By the time a player arrives in the NFL, he has experienced many of football's harsh realities.
But Kush has shown us the ugly side of winning. It's impossible to root for a coach who has to half twist a player's head off to get inside.